SAG-AFTRA — In the entertainment business, publicists help manage the publicity of industry personalities and frequently play a crucial part in the marketing of film and television premieres. These people often operate in the background to help propel the sector forward. However, there has been a change in how things are done.
This week, publicists gathered with SAG-AFTRA leadership to discuss how they would handle the joint strike with the WGA. The conference ended on a low note.
A Zoom conference was arranged on Tuesday to examine how talent businesses could negotiate the big strike. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator, attended the meeting to discuss the issue. Many were angered, however, when Crabtree-Ireland apologized for the strike’s impact on their business. He also acknowledged that the strike would have collateral damage, hurting others in the business.
When questioned about what transpired at the meeting, a SAG-AFTRA official declined to comment.
“We do not comment on private meetings with our allies in this very difficult fight for the respect, dignity, and economic equity our members, who are also their clients, demand,” the spokesperson explained.
“The support of our membership and partners throughout the industry is a powerful foundation from which we will ultimately secure a fair and just deal from the studios and streamers.”
SAG-AFTRA and PR
According to a senior publicist from a major company, the tone of SAG-AFTRA leadership at the conference was harsh and unfriendly to PR professionals, all of whom were trying to make a livelihood.
According to a source, the actuality of the meeting was that, rather than soliciting the assistance of persons who could throw light on the problem and sway public opinion in their favor, Crabtree-Ireland rejected them.
“He referenced that the membership voted for this to happen,” the source said. “They voted for a strike, and in order to achieve the goals of the union, these are the circumstances.”
The publicist expressed concern about the industry’s atmosphere, particularly in the aftermath of the meeting.
Calls to loosen the grip on publicity
According to one source, publicists are lobbying SAG-AFTRA to relax its public relations policies. They emphasized the difference between the SAG-AFTRA and WGA approaches to publicity.
When the union went on strike earlier this month, over 160,000 members were notified that they would be severely prohibited from promoting any initiatives with the corporations involved, even if it was a previous project.
Although the writers guild went through a similar process at the outset of their strike, they relaxed the restrictions informally as some authors and writer-directors met duties for the award season and theatrical campaigns.
Effects of the strike
The talent PR industry is undergoing significant transformation, with rosters being evacuated and stars going on sabbatical. Publicists agree that if the strike continues into the fall, numerous companies will be forced to close after surviving Covid.
According to sources, the difference in decision-making between the two guilds would come down to the foundations of what enables artisans to succeed.
“Writers create words. They’re used to going their own way,” an individual noted. “Actors interpret words and express them for a living, and look to the directors more so for guidance.”
Another criticism addressed is that only a few SAG-AFTRA members are allowed to practice publicity for projects, notably those from independent producers. Unknown Country, for example, achieved an interim deal with the guild. Everyone else, on the other hand, is on lockdown, and no one is ready to take the first step toward facing the repercussions of breaking the order.
Fear among publicists
Publicists are worried about what may happen in the next months, with one high-level rep planning a secret Zoom meeting with its members. The email was addressed to key public relations firms representing famous celebrities and independent operators in advance of the conference on Monday.
“A lot of you reached out to me after the SAG[-AFTRA] call this week to set up a meeting with all the PR companies to discuss next steps, strategy, etc,” the email begins.
“I have one set up for Monday, July 31st at 10 am PT/1 pm ET. Hope most of you can join. This is a difficult time, and we need to stand together.”
2023 will be a watershed moment for Hollywood and the entertainment business, since it will be the first time in decades that performers and writers have walked picket lines together since 1960. The labor instability is especially worrying for publicists who believe the SAG-AFTRA publicity strategy has gone too far, even though they have supported both unions.
Participating in the networked Hollywood community, according to some officials, should be given serious thought.